Could The Steelers Really Draft Two Linebackers Again In 2011?

We are just a few days away from April and a few days closer to the Steelers perhaps drafting another linebacker in the 2011 NFL draft and maybe even two. Now of course there is no guarantee that they draft one, but since Kevin Colbert became the Director of Football Operations with the Steelers in 2000, the Steelers have drafted at least one linebacker in all but two of the Steelers drafts he has overseen and four times in that span, the Steelers have drafted more than one linebacker.

A quick rewind back to last April and you will remember the Steelers actually drafted three linebackers in the form of Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson and Stevenson Sylvester. All three made the Steelers opening day 53 man roster, but Gibson eventually was waived so the Steelers could sign defensive tackle Steve McLendon off of the practice squad because both Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel were both sidelined with injuries. The Steelers were hoping Gibson would clear waivers so they could sign him to the practice squad, but the 49ers quickly snatched Gibson off the waiver wire and the Steelers were out a fourth round draft pick. Worilds and Sylvester contributed heavily on special teams in 2010, but both only received very limited mop-up snaps on the defensive side of the ball late in blow-out wins.

If you look at the Steelers linebacker group heading into the offseason, the entire starting unit of James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley will return in 2011. Woodley was hit with the franchise tag prior to the lockout and the Steelers will likely try to work out a long term deal with him when the labor situation is resolved. Although Farrior is signed through the 2012 season, 2011 could very well be the final season the 36 year old veteran has in the black and gold. Timmons is entering his final year of his rookie contract in 2011 and that will need to be addressed at some point in the near future. Harrison has shown no signs of slowing down, but has had two minor back procedures since the season has ended and that certainly has to be of some concern no matter how minor they may have been. Harrison is under contract through 2014 and if he stays healthy should be able to play out most, if not all of it.

Behind the starting group is where the questions abound. Worilds and Sylvester should be more up to speed in their sophomore seasons, so that takes cares of one outside and one inside spot. It should be noted however that most of the regular season defensive snaps that Sylvester saw in 2010, came at the outside positions. This was likely because of numbers ahead of him as Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox were the primary back-up inside linebackers in 2010 and they just wanted to get Sylvester some snaps to also test his versatility. Fox is now an unrestricted free agent and there is a good chance he will not be re-signed. Foote was brought back in 2010 after a year in Detroit and saw most of his time on defense in goal-line situations and mop-up duty. Foote is still under contract for two more seasons and will turn 31 in June. All signs point to him being back in 2011 on the 53 man roster, but the Steelers could also decide to go younger there as well.

Considering all of the above, it would appear that there is just one open spot for just one linebacker on the 2011 roster, but had the Steelers not waived Gibson, they likely would of carried nine linebackers for all of 2010. One could then argue they might want to get back to that number in 2011. In addition, young linebackers usually can contribute instantly on special teams.

On Tuesday, Colbert and Mike Tomlin were seen getting pretty cozy with Texas defensive end Sam Acho at his pro day. Defensive end you say? Acho projects as 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level and the Steelers absolutely love these types of tweeners as we have seen over the years. Acho was run through quite a bit of linebacker drills and reportedly fared well showing his ability to drop into coverage as that position in a 34 defense calls for as a skill set. Now you can\’t read too much into the coziness as Acho was surely not the only player the Steelers brass were there to see as defensive backs Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown were also on display and either could certainly be on the Steelers radar in the first two rounds. Acho is projected to be a late second round or early third round pick, so the Steelers would likely have to pick him in the second round unless they were to move up higher in the third. That certainly is not out of the question.

Should the Steelers spend a first or second round pick on a linebacker, it would likely cause several of Steeler Nation to jump out of their office windows, no matter what floor they are on. It is however not unthinkable though. The draft is perceived as a deep one for the cornerback and tackle position by most of the scouts and it is not out of the question the Steelers might wait until the mid rounds to address one of those two need areas. The Steelers certainly might not deem both the tackle and cornerback as such the urgent need as the fan base does and most certainly could just go the best player available route as well. Especially if they feel they have a good chance of retaining the services of free agent cornerback Ike Taylor and the yet to be determined guys like Willie Colon and William Gay. The longer the lockout goes on the better the chances it seems.

In closing, the Steelers love linebackers and they play a huge role in the success of the Steelers defense nearly every year. They also covet the tweener types it seems more than most, but as more teams shift to the 34, the greater the demand will be on these types of players. Just because the Steelers starting group is in place, does not mean that they will not continue to reload, especially with the long term status of both Woodley and Timmons up in the air come draft day. It should not surprise you if the Steelers draft one linebacker next month and as I have shown, it should not surprise you if they draft two. It\’s that time of year again. Linebacker drafting time.

  • Jason

    Tomlin has drafted a minimum of 2 LBs in every draft except 1 where he didnt draft any. We drafted 3 last year, losing Gibson to the 49ers. That said, I agree that we draft at least 1 LB, but I dont think its an OLB like Acho (questionable speed, and verage skills). I do think however that the writing is on the wall for us to draft Kelvin Sheppard, ILB from LSU. Tomlin attended his pro day, and the options behind Farrior are Foote and Sly. Sly played well on Teams, but I dont think hes pegged to replace Farrior. Sly replaces Fox. Note- a 7th round pick or UFA like Bruce Miller DE/OLB tweener from UCF is more likely for an OLB pick. And if we draft him 7th, then that meets Tomlins 2 LB per draft rotation. History repeats itself. This is how you should analyze the Steelers draft.

    The other thing to watch are the “requirements” needed for Tomin to draft a player in the 1st round. 3 out of 4 1st rounders were Juniors, Ziggy being the only Senior. The primary kicker is this: the player MUST be invited for an in house workout AND Tomlin MUST attend their pro day. The guy meeting these requirements is Curtis Brown, CB Texas. We missed on Revis. We score with Brown.

    Steelers 1st 3 picks (if we dont trade down) are 31 Brown CB Texas, 63 Gilbert OT Florida, and 95 Sheppard ILB LSU. You heard it here 1st.

  • Giarc

    “Should the Steelers spend a first or second round pick on a linebacker, it would likely cause several of the Steeler nation to jump out of their office windows,”…”The Steelers certainly might not deem both tackle and cornerback as such the urgent need as the fan base does…” Let me just say this if Steelers draft a LB in the top three rounds I am going to be sooooo pissed! In addition, if the Steelers seriously don’t deem G/T and corner more urgent needs they are out of their minds, especially if they think they need a LB as the more pressing issue than G/T or corner. I am sick of Steelers drafting sucky corners in the 3-6 round range. Heck they even drafted sucky corners in the 2nd rounds in the past seven years. In the past seven years we have drafted eight corners in only one of them has turned out to be above average. I promise we can do without drafting a LB in the first three rounds and probably even in the whole 2011 draft. We need to address G/T and corner in the first two rounds and I think we should draft a either a DT/OL/DB in the 3rd round based on best avaliable.

  • Dave Bryan

    Oh no Jason, you are not one of those, “you heard here first” guys are you? lol Do you even read before you comment? lol Lighten up little buddy.

  • steeler junkey

    I agree that there is a very good chance the Steelers could draft a LB in this draft. Especially if the draftee is one of those LB tweener types that could player either ILB or OLB. Thruogh the course of the draftee’s rookie year the Steelers would then figure out what position he will actually play in the future.

  • Jason

    Let me ask you this Dave- where have you ever seen or heard the complete breakdown of Tomlins draft tendencies? Where?! Nowhere you jagoff, until you read my post! My mock in 2010 was 6 out of 10 correct on who we drafted. It would have been 7 had I kept Gibson to the final mock (kept kicking Gibson and Worilds back and forth), but with Sly as a 7 I had to choose, and I chose Worilds. Thats 6 out of 10. Watch me this year, especially if/when we trade back. So yeah, I do read before i post, but the focus of my post was very unique as I have NEVER see or heard the breakdown before.


  • dave

    Ziggy wasn’t one of the 30 players who visited in 2009. Joe Burnett, Frank Summers, Sunny Harris, and AQ Shipley were on the visit list.

  • Tanner

    I say see what the patriots take if they don’t take a corner then trade down and draft Brown and then we can get an extra pick but I’m starting to like Brown. If he doesn’t turn into a great corner then he can take Clark’s spot when he leaves

  • Vic

    Well Since we have only seven picks in this years draft i believe that they will find a way to increase the number of picks.Now as far as there draft selections go I say they will pick an OL or DL someone like Phil Taylor or Derek Sherrod.In the second if avaliable Marcus Cannon OT(TCU) and from there it’s anybody’s guess

  • Andy…

    Dave –

    As a student of the Steelers, you know anything could happen…including your scenario above. No one…no one can predict how the Steelers will draft. I have watched Steeler drafts for 40 years and there are always surprises. Under Colbert, you can be pretty certain that there will be at least one DL, one OL, one DB, and one LB, so two LB’s is not out of the question. After that, it’s a crapshoot! I like Brown, but 31 is too high for him and 63 might be too low. Oh, and to Giarc: Ike was a fourth-rounder in 2003 and didn’t start until his 3rd year…too early to give up on Lewis or Butler.

  • Rob Henderson

    @ Jason Your so Right. Thats what I’d want if we dont Trade.
    I’F Kelvin is gone in rd 3 I’d take Austin Pettis or Rashard Carmichael if he’s there. OR Trade with San Fran for their two 4th rounders.
    A Draft of Brown,Gilbert & Shepard I’d Jump for joy. Then Pettis Cortez Allen or Richard Sherman, MIke Huey or Derek Newton, BAck up QB the one the brought in from Eastern?

  • Giarc


    I agree it is a little early to rule Butler and Lewis out as nobody’s but I guess my point was we need to just draft a sure fire 1st rounder (Not Brandon Harris either) if we draft one and not even waste mid to later round picks on them since none have panned out in times past and since we still have guys like Butler and Lewis who are still in their devolment stage. For this reason there is no need to draft more CB’s in the mid to late rounds at this point.

  • Giarc

    Sorry, last post was to Andy not Dave.

  • Dave Bryan

    Where did I say I had given up on Butler or Lewis? I have high hopes for Crezdon this year. Lewis though needs to turn the corner quickly. Search the blog for my post on each. No guarantee that Ike or gay return in 2011. BMac is a concern. Not much depth left on the roster after that. The Steelers must get a corner in round 1 or 2.

  • Giarc


    If you notice I posted after my post saying it was for Andy, sorry for the mix up.

  • Dave Bryan

    Oh, ok.